BSP supremo Mayawati has reason to smile again eight months after being ousted from the throne of Lucknow by her arch political rival Mulayam Singh Yadav. She has managed to win a symbolic but nevertheless decisive victory over her opponent by completely isolating him in Parliament over the 117th Constitutional Amendment Bill on quota in government job promotions for SCs/STs. As the bill sailed through the Rajya Sabha this week with a brute majority with only the nine Samajwadi Party leaders and a solitary Independent member voting against, the Dalit leader could barely stop grinning.
Mayawati knows that she has won a key battle even if the passage of the bill is prevented in this session of the Lok Sabha as it is likely to by rowdy Samajwadi Party MPs who are in larger numbers there than the Rajya Sabha and will be personally led by the Yadav chieftain. By managing to grab the public limelight and credit for pushing through the bill in the Rajya Sabha the BSP supremo has all of a sudden turned the tables on Mulayam Singh Yadav who could not find a single friend supporting him from either the ruling party or Opposition benches. This acquires particular significance given the relentless tussle for political one-upmanship between the two behemoths of the country’s most populous state.
It had become imperative for Mayawati to get the constitutional amendment passed in at least one House of Parliament. Firstly, the legislation had been provoked by the Supreme Court knocking down a policy of caste-based promotions in government jobs she herself had implemented as chief minister. With the Akhilesh Yadav government promptly using the Supreme Court ruling to dismantle her promotion policy, it had become a matter of prestige for the BSP leader to use Parliament to reverse the judicial setback.
The success or failure of this move had become particularly vital after Mayawati helped the UPA to win the vote on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail in the Rajya Sabha earlier in the session. Had she failed to get in return a quid pro quo on the job promotions quota it could have led to the impression that the BSP supremo had been reduced to a Congress puppet. By bulldozing the ruling party to push the constitutional amendment through the Upper House the feisty Dalit firebrand has once again underlined her ability to negotiate the rough and tumble of Indian politics.
It was by no means an easy walkover. At one point all seemed lost for her as the Congress in typical manner started prevaricating about pushing the amendment through in this session once the FDI vote was done. But Mayawati’s tantrums against the hapless Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari and her threat to take “tough action” if the government failed to pull out all the stops and leverage the bill worked wonders. The message was clear — nobody got a free lunch off the BSP supremo!
For Mulayam, on the other hand, things have not gone so well in recent months. Not so long ago in the aftermath of his party’s stupendous victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls he was right there at the UPA high table feted and wooed by the Congress high and mighty. He then started playing games with the Congress high command by initially joining hands with a rebellious Mamata Banerjee in the lead up to the presidential elections and then mysteriously fell in line. A few months later, Yadav occupied political centre stage once again seeking to lead the Opposition campaign against the FDI policy and projecting himself as a Third Front prime ministerial candidate in a hypothetical mid-term poll. Now within a few days, the veteran leader has been cut down to size finding it difficult to make friends and influence people in the political arena.
Having been so badly snubbed by the Congress leadership on the job promotion quota issue, Mulayam Singh Yadav is likely to get even more restless to withdraw support from the ruling dispensation. Already the Samajwadi rhetoric against the Congress has got far more menacing. Yet the party is afraid to take the plunge and pull the plug fearing that the time was not yet ripe to do so.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dilemma is further compounded by mounting problems in Lucknow. His son Akhilesh is struggling to maintain law and order in the state which has deteriorated rapidly over the past several months including a serious of communal riots. Even as this erodes support in vital upper caste and Muslim constituencies further trouble is brewing in the shape of the chief minister’s politically ambitious step-brother Prateek supported by his mother and Mulayam Singh’s present wife Sadhana as well as powerful brother Shiv Pal Yadav. With a sulking party Muslim heavyweight Azam Khan also not too favourably disposed towards Akhilesh, the Samajwadi Party supremo needs to make a move at the Centre sooner rather than later.
All this will not bring much cheer to the UPA. Balancing on its two pillars — a hurt and restive Mulayam Singh and a feisty Mayawati who will demand a high price for every concession — is not going to be easy for the present regime.
Ajoy Bose is the author of Behenji — A political biography of Mayawati
The views expressed by the author are personal